Honestly, there's a lot of pushing going on in aikido. Tori enters into a superior position, where uke has very little balance left, and then makes a push to complete the pinning or throwing technique. Sometimes it's even quite a rude push, as if getting rid of unwanted visitors and making sure they get the message.
I like to believe that most aikido techniques should be possible to perform without that pushing, the sudden use of force at the end. Otherwise, isn't there a flaw in the principle that the attacker should be dealt with in such a way that he or she doesn't need to feel defeated?
Maybe we put too much emphasis on not only succeeding with the technique, but also to do it in such a way that it's really evident to anyone, including uke. If so, that's really the principle of victory versus defeat, the polarity that aikido is supposed to do away with.
Are we worried about the impression we make on other martial artists, so that we want to prove to them that we can throw people around -- in ways that they understand and respect? Then we might be transforming aikido into another martial art completely in the process.
In the joining of aiki, it shouldn't be necessary to use force. Learning the aikido techniques properly means being able to do them without all that pushing and pulling. I don't say it's easy, but that's what makes it fascinating enough to spend a lifetime searching for the solutions.
I remember my surprise when I started to practice for Nishio sensei, back in the early 1980's. His aikido, with all its atemi, seemed to be very forceful indeed -- but when he threw me or pinned me to the floor, I was amazed to discover that there was almost no muscular force used. No pushing, no pulling, just a series of precise steps, strange arm and hand movements, and suddenly I was sent flying.
He was one of the very few aikido teachers I have ever practiced for, who didn't need all that pushing and pulling. In spite of his substantial background in several martial arts regarded as tough and strong, his solutions were so clever that his treatment of uke was soft and gentle. Like a diplomat instead of a conqueror.
Today, there are a lot of spectacular martial arts that seem to be extremely forceful, not to say brutal. We should take care not to develop some kind of inferiority complex towards them. Aikido has different premises and different aspirations. We don't need to prove ourselves to champions of competition sports that actually consist of two attackers.
Also, we should not jump to conclusions about these sports, just from watching them on TV and YouTube extracts. Certainly, they include some severe punching and kicking, but as for the grappling, they, too, are searching for the soft solutions where muscular force is secondary. And they get quite good at it.
I've seen skilled Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athletes in regular training, and the supple softness by which they move and handle their opponent is a delight. It's no surprise, really. Why would anyone spend years training something that only hurts, and where the biggest muscle wins? There is sophistication and gentleness in the competition martial arts as well.
In these aspects, aikido has something to teach them -- if we don't give it up by settling for a lot of pushing and pulling.
Stefan Stenudd is a 6 dan Aikikai aikido instructor, member of the International Aikido Federation Directing Committee, the Swedish Aikikai Grading Committee, and the Swedish Budo Federation Board. He has practiced aikido since 1972. Presently he teaches aikido and iaido at his dojo Enighet in Malmo, Sweden, and at seminars in Sweden and abroad. He is also an author, artist, and historian of ideas. He has published a number of books in Swedish and English, both fiction and non-fiction. Among the latter are books about aikido and aikibatto, also a guide to the lifeforce qi, and a Life Energy Encyclopedia. He has written a Swedish interpretation of the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching, and of the Japanese samurai classic Book of Five Rings. In the history of ideas he studies the thought patterns of creation myths, as well as Aristotle's Poetics. He has his own extensive aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido